history, historic preservation, and community context

Lost Mansions of the Main Line Tickets, Wed, May 12, 2021 at 7:00 PM |  Eventbrite

Last evening, I attended a virtual zoom lecture via the Willows Park Preserve titled “Lost Mansions of the Main Line.” It was presented by Jeff Groff of Winterthur who is the Estate Historian there.

It was like opening the Pandora’s Box of history. It was fabulous. I wished the program had been longer. The program was primarily mansions and houses which no longer exist. Some that still exist in a mostly adaptive reuse capacity.

So I grabbed some screenshots:

I posted the screenshots to show people the coolness of the lecture and the response was amazing. So many people had memories of some of the properties, like my weird connection to the Cassatt Estate in Haverford which was discussed.

My great grandmother, Rebecca Nesbitt Gallen, who was in service back then, was the summer housekeeper to the Cassatt Family. My grandfather and one of his brothers found pieces of old bicycles in old stables or perhaps a garage and built their own ramshackle bikes out of parts and learned to ride bikes on Grays Lane. When he was in his 80s and my parents had moved us to the north side of Haverford (late 1970s), I wonder what he thought about his daughter and her family living but a minute from where his mother had been in service during the summers?

And I have another weird Cassatt connection, or my husband does. His late mother was one of the many, many Tredyffrin residents years ago who tried for years in vain to stop the development known as Chesterbrook that completely changed the face of not only the Main Line, but part of Chester County. (see this history as compiled by TEHistory.) The Cassatts’ Chesterbrook Farm

So anyway, sharing about this lecture and the response led to other things. People interested in Bloomfield (the Radnor Township estate on S. Ithan Ave that burned in the spring of 2012) and as always, La Ronda which was demolished October, 2009 in Lower Merion Township.)

I have photos of both Bloomfield and La Ronda. I chose to document both with a camera back then. La Ronda over the last few months she stood, and Bloomfield after the fire.

What I also found startling are all of the people who vaguely recall the names of some of these places, but have no idea of the history. Or locations. Or the families that lived there.

We live in such a transient world that the very context of history of an area, and the history itself is getting lost. It goes hand in hand with people don’t know what the “Main Line” is, where the name came from and where it ends ( Name came from the days of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the “Main Line of Philadelphia” or “Pennsylvania Main Line”, ends as Paoli, not Malvern or points west.) It also goes hand in hand for realtors and developers who want to call Malvern and points west “Main Line” or things properly in Downingtown “Chester Springs” or something sitting on Route 3 “Radnor Hunt.”

The history matters. The facts and people and places give said history context. Maybe it’s me, but how can you want to put down roots in a community and not have a clue as to how that community came to exist? Or what are area traditions and beloved celebrations and why? Why certain non-profits have specific fundraisers?

Now more than ever, our history is important, along with the context that goes with it. COVID19 has seriously stressed out especially the smaller non-profits. Big non-profit machines will survive the economic fall-out of COVID19, but our small non-profits need our support. Here’s my list of some I think we all should show the love to and whom I am supportive of:

Jenkins Arboretum

Willows Park Preserve

Chester County Historical Society

Tredyffrin Easttown Historical Society

Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust

Chadds Ford Historical Society

Valley Forge Park Alliance

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Historic Sugartown

Historic Yellow Springs

The Mill at Anselma

I will note that the Jeff Groff Lost Mansions of the Main Line lecture will be given via zoom and the Chester County Historical Society on May 12th. It’s free, but if you are not a member a small donation would be nice.

Also, there is a Lost Gardens of the Main Line lecture which will be given via zoom and Jenkins Arboretum on March 18th. It is also a Jeff Groff lecture (and I can’t wait!) Also a free event, but if you don’t already support Jenkins, consider a small donation.

All of the institutions I named are wonderful, and offer very reasonable memberships. There are many more I didn’t name, these are just some of my favorites.

Pay it forward.

Thanks for stopping by.

Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of 19th-Century America  (Redistributing Wealth)

why preserve when you can demolish?

Wandering back to Lower Merion Township today. Yes, I do that on occasion, although these days it’s mostly virtually. I know some people who read my blog and visit the blog’s Facebook page are occasionally outraged when I don’t write about either Chester County or whatever they think I should be writing about. But life journeys are individual, and kind of like my writing journey, yes?

Growing up in Lower Merion, one of the things I loved most were the homes and the gardens. Stately, modest, actual estates, twins, cottages, mansions, and everything in between. Back in those days, the history of the area mattered. And the gardens were glorious whether large or small.

But then, October 1, 2009, Addison Mizner’s La Ronda was demolished. I was there with many others outside the gates. I documented it in photos. She was such a gorgeous structure. So historic. Part of the history of the area, yet even as a historic resource, she was torn down and exists only in memories and photographs.

When La Ronda was demolished, I knew deep down in my heart that Lower Merion was no longer the place for me. It had completely at that moment become about people and how much money they had, and not much else. When La Ronda came down I realized no property was safe or valued there. It was a sad realization.

Over the years I have continued to document notable properties. People have the right to sell to whomever they choose. People have the right to demolish homes great, large, wonderful, small, whatever. But I still lament the people who can’t see the value of the architectural history of an area, and the impact it has. Well another home popped up on a mental endangered list (as in my mind and opinion, I don’t know if it is on an actual list anywhere) because of a Historic Commission agenda in Lower Merion for February 22nd:

Sigh. 651 Black Rock Road. They say it’s Gladwyne, but it’s actually Bryn Mawr. I knew who lived there although they were not friends. Of course people wish to downsize and move on. But for this house to be facing the fate of the wrecking ball is just so tragic. This house is spectacular, with mature gardens and an amazing property and pool.

And as described by the realtor:

Let’s see “as is”:

If you look at all the photos, ok the kitchen is a little dated, and perhaps the bathrooms to the taste of some, but this property and home are spectacular. Quite literally, they don’t build them like this anymore. And the gardener in me wonders about plants that may have been there since the house was built.

So according to Lower Merion’s website, this is in Commissioner Scott Zelov’s ward? He was a champion of saving Stoneleigh and once upon a time against eminent domain in Ardmore (it’s why he got elected originally and I know, I was there), will he have an opinion on this if it proceeds to demolition? But will it matter?

Nope. It won’t. People have the right to demolish. Sadly.

Historic preservation can’t just be a vague idea, it actually has to happen. It has to matter. And in Lower Merion, starting way before La Ronda got bulldozed, it ceased to matter. Lower Merion’s current manager was West Chester Borough’s Manager before ascending to the plum position of Lower Merion Township Manager. And although I have nothing against the man personally, he always appeared to me to be pro-development over other things. And the current Director of Building and Planning is someone I watched climb the ladder at Lower Merion. And I have always found him pro development over anything else. He won’t like me for mentioning this but I sat through YEARS of meeting watching him flip his hair like Farrah Fawcett and present developer’s plans like he worked for them, does anyone else remember?

Anyway, the house is still standing as of now, but this is on an agenda and according to Lower Merion there is a demolition permit. What will happen when all of the old and historic houses and their gardens are gone? In Lower Merion and elsewhere?

Historic preservation isn’t really going to matter until it matters to all of us consistently across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And I do not believe every old house can and should be saved, but when you see houses like this one you have to wonder because beautiful places like this is what drew people to the Main Line in the first place. Until then, why preserve when you can demolish?

Thanks for stopping by and stay safe, roads are icy.

the old hershey’s mill continues to come back to life!

In June of 2020 much to my delight, I discovered the old Hershey’s Mill at Hershey’s Mill Road and Green Hill Road was getting a new lease on life.

We passed by today and the restoration continues! This is so refreshing and lovely to see!

Restoration is possible with unique old buildings. We can’t wait to see it completely restored!

the old hershey’s mill is getting a makeover of some sort…

From ChescoViews

One of my favorite places around here is Hershey’s Mill Rd. Such a cool place. So many great old farm houses, barns, and the road is an old country kind of road that meanders.

This weekend on Sunday we went up Hershey’s Mill to Greenhill Road. We had a car behind us so I couldn’t get a photo but it looked like the funky mill property (and I mean that in a good way not bad FYI) on the corner with the sort of “gate house” garage entrance into the property is being restored! It looks like it obviously changed hands. This is very exciting and I can’t wait to see what happens. I love historic preservation in action! It would be cool if someone like Jeff Devlin had a hand in the restoration, but I know nothing…but that is what I would do….

1034 Hershey Mill Road, West Chester, PA 19380 | Compass
Found on the Internet

I do not know who purchased it but all of the overgrown everything is gone and it has been stripped down and you can actually see the house for the first time (or the first time for me.) Compass the real estate company said it was a barn on their old listing…but this was a mill…. the Hershey’s Mill. How cool.

1034 Hershey Mill Road, West Chester, PA 19380 | Compass
Found on the Internet

I never knew who lived there. I remembered the last owner did not want East Goshen to mess with dam (now drained or breached or whatever the term is.) Sometimes it looks like East Goshen is working on it when you drive by, but mostly not. I guess it is supposed to end up some sort of nature preserve thing and they are dealing with the flooding?

Philadelphia Inquirer: Picturesque Chesco dam dry and in limbo
by Michaelle Bond, Staff Writer, Posted: January 25, 2016

Neil DeRiemer and his wife, Karen, used to look out their bedroom windows and see a waterfall cascading over a small dam just a few feet away.

Like their neighbors, they watched blue herons, white egrets, and black turtles wade in the seven-acre basin that made their East Goshen homes waterfront properties.

“It was like living in Longwood Gardens,” said DeRiemer, 70. “How many waterfalls are left in Chester County?”

Now Hershey’s Mill Dam is dry, its basin drained after it failed state safety inspections about nine years ago.


Hershey Mill - Chester Co. - Pennsylvania
From the website “Mill Pictures“. Photo by Jim Miller 1987.

Philadelphia Inquirer: Chesco town opts to breach two dams deemed dangerous
by Michaelle Bond, Staff Writer, Posted: June 28, 2016

A local official called it the toughest decision he had had to make in three decades, one that East Goshen Township, Chester County, has been confronting for several years.

Tuesday night, the board of supervisors voted to breach the town’s two dams, both deemed potentially dangerous by the state – choosing financial considerations over the fervor of some residents who wanted to preserve what they consider landmarks of their town.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said years ago that the recreational dams, which have been part of the town in various iterations for centuries, could fail during a major rainfall. Township supervisors had to decide how to meet new state standards.

Supervisors told the 80 or so people gathered at the Goshen Fire Company banquet hall that they had to make the best decision for all the township’s 18,000 residents.

I have never read a comprehensive history of Hershey’s Mill, but that community for seniors with a golf course has a brief history of Hershey’s Mill on a website. This place seems like it was empty for a couple of years which is a shame because I think it’s magical.

Found on Internet. Unknown as to where it came from

I know whomever bought it had to clear overgrown trees and what once were shrubs to restore the place. That is common sense. I just hope the garages (the covered entrance) are going to be saved and restored too. It’s all part of the charm.

Hershey Mill - Chester Co. - Pennsylvania
From the website “Mill Pictures“. Photo credit Jim Miller 1987

It’s nice to know that it is not getting torn down. I wonder if the mill wheel is still there? According to the Mill Pictures website someone named Dean Piece in 2008 wrote:

*Update: Hershey Mill was converted in the early 1960’s by a wealthy Californian. Lucille Ball came to one of the parties he held when the mill was newly renovated. He died soon after the renovation – enroute back to California. The Estate was in probate for years to figure out the ownership. The original wooden wheel was removed and reportedly put in pieces under the brick floor on the ground floor. The three car garage contained chauffeur’s quarters and two 1961 Imperials. The Paddock Pool was one of the first in-ground pools in the area.

So it was owned once upon a time by a wealthy Californian? And Lucille Ball coming here to a party makes sense with something else a neighbor who is a lifetime resident told me:

When I was a little girl, Grace Kelly and her family would come out from the city to spend time at the mill house as their country home! They vacationed in the summer in Ocean City, NJ but spent many days and weekends at Hershey’s Mill.

Google photo

Anyway…if anyone has history to share, I am all ears. I love this place and I hope it becomes a happy and vibrant home (with a garden) once again. This place is a local treasure.

I am also delighted to have something fun to write about versus the past three months.

Here is hoping East Goshen actually finishes the park or whatever they are supposed to create.

Thanks for stopping by.

Another Google photo of Hershey Mill. Those overgrown trees/shrubs on left side of photo are gone.

philadelphia: the unexpected city

The other day I wrote about being a little kid in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. The mid 1960s through to the mid 1970s.

Today I picked up some things from a storage locker sale I had purchased. One thing was a limited edition book published in 1965 when I was a year old. Philadelphia: The Unexpected City by Laurence Lafore and Sara Lee Lippincott. The publisher was Doubleday. It was a copy of the “Philadelphia Edition.”

I don’t think too many people would be as excited to see this book as I was. But it was a book I remember people having in their homes when I was growing up, especially people that lived in Society Hill because there was so much of Society Hill in the book.

And there’s one thing that’s a picture of when they were raising the houses around Front Street to basically put in the highway. And I remember when they were doing all of that because it took a while to build and my mother’s friend Margery Niblock the artist had done a wood cut of it that I have the artist’s proof of.

So again, unless you live there during this time this probably wouldn’t mean anything to you. But it means something to me because there are so many pictures in this book of what Society Hill looks like when people like my parents came in and bought house is dirt cheap and started to restore them.

And the restoration of Society Hill is still a historic preservation triumph even with all of the houses that were in such bad condition they had to be demolished.

I guess that’s why sometimes I wonder why municipalities let people say “Oh we can’t possibly fix this, it has to be taken down!” I look at what happened then when I was a kid, and the technology wasn’t as advanced and so on and so forth, yet the historic preservation actually happened and restoration actually happened.

So I wish people would look at examples like this, and then look more towards preservation where they live. It is possible. Communities just have to want it. And if communities want it, they need to make that known to local government.

People have to realize you can save pieces of the past and people will love them and will live in them.

This section of Philadelphia when I was growing up was a sea of construction and scaffolding. I remember the contrast of going to neighborhoods where other people we knew lived and then coming back to our own. But it was exciting to see. Even then.

Hopefully someday when I am no longer around, someone else will happen upon what is now my copy of this book and love it as much as I do.

the end of the decade, new year’s eve 2019

Lovely Loch Aerie, Frazer, PA

It has been a crazy decade chock-full of so much. I wasn’t sure what my last post of the year was going to look like until I started looking at some of my photos of houses that had captured my interest and fancy in the past decade.

So in all of the houses I have looked at in this decade I have decided to remain true to Chester County today and give you my three favorites.

Ironically my three house picks for the decade are not traditional 18th century Chester County Farmhouses, but three 19th-century stone houses of a certain era.

You see the first house above. My ultimate old house love, beautiful and lovely Loch Aerie mansion. I have written about her enough that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel and restate her history.

Loch Aerie on Lancaster Avenue in Frazer in East Whiteland Township enters the next decade with a guaranteed and brilliant new lease on life. She is being restored to her former glory, and will have an adaptive reuse that will ensure her place in architectural history for decades to come.

Old stone house Francis Ave, Berwyn, Easttown.

Next on my list is a house I was reminded of this morning. I know nothing of her pedigree. It is the great stone house on Francis Avenue in Berwyn.

My great friend (and Chester County historian and artist) Catherine Quillman and I stumbled upon this beauty in 2016 one fall afternoon.

We took a wrong turn somewhere after leaving Jenkins Arboretum and all of a sudden we were on Francis Avenue in front of this house. And before anyone flips out, we did not trespass. I had a camera with a zoom lens with me and I took photos from the street. This house captured my fancy for a number of reasons, including the fact that the stonework reminded me a lot of Loch Aerie.

I know absolutely nothing of the history of this house other than its 19th century and in Easttown Township . I think it probably has a name (possibly according to a 1912 atlas it appears it was maybe called “Rhydlyn” home of James G. Francis, whose sister in law I believe was famed local photographer Lucy Sampson according to census records from the early 20th century and according to the census she lived there for a while!) I don’t know if it is listed on any national registries or even a state or local registry. I couldn’t find it listed anywhere. (I am told it is mentioned HERE.)

It strikes me as a similar vintage to Loch Aerie. I also do not know the current ownership of the home but I am told it is being preserved as part of some kind of a development. I am also told that the glorious slate roof is no longer which I can’t say surprises me because old slate roofs are incredibly expensive to maintain and it’s a lost art of the craftsmanship of roof building. There are very few slaters left.

My last house which captured my fancy a great deal in this last decade is the Joseph Price house in West Whiteland Township.

This house is on S.Whitford and Clover Mill Roads in Exton. The Joseph Price House in West Whiteland Township.

Here is a wonderful little slide show presentation on prezi. This house is historically listed. It was built in 1878 and altered in 1894 by the house namesake inhabitant at the time. It was altered from a Gothic style to a Queen Anne style.

I was also told in the 1990s it was separate apartments inside and there were also cottages around it which were rented out as well.

In the 1950s and 60s there was a large barn there that was a sale barn for cattle run by Bayard Taylor —a blog reader told me that. He knew because his mother did bookkeeping for that business while she was in college.

This house is not completely deserted I am told there is a caretaker who still lives there. However, this house has an uncertain future at best and nobody seems to know what will happen to it. Which is a shame because it’s very cool.

So as we lift a glass one last time to toast a crazy tumultuous decade everywhere, let us think of our future and historic preservation. There are so many cool houses like this throughout Chester County from all eras of time.

Less development. More land and structure preservation and adaptive reuse. That’s my final wish for Chester County for 2019.

Please do not trespass on these properties. Either get permission to wander around or look from the street.

Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve!

Joseph Price House. West Whiteland Township.

who owns clews & strawbridge?

IMG_8080

This structure is a historic asset…or it should be.

It’s the 18th century farmhouse that is part of the Clews & Strawbridge property on Lancaster Avebue in Malvern/Frazwer .

Who owns Clews & Strawbridge now?

I find this demolition by neglect disgraceful, but then again I find most of the rotting historic properties in Chester County and in East Whiteland disgraceful because it doesn’t have to be this way!

IMG_8076

The fencing is new and I have to ask do they think a stockade fence is going to make people forget what a hot mess the entire property looks like most of the time? COME ON.

Whoever you are, it’s time to deal with the house.  Can it be sold? Is it empty? Is it full of stuff? There are so many stories yet no one seems to know what is going on so can they just be straight with residents and historical architecture buffs?

IMG_8075

have you been to the eagle tavern lately? GO!

The Eagle Tavern is Chester County History. Love that after centuries (literally!) they are still standing! It was built in 1702 and the liquor license dates from 1727. We weren’t even a country yet officially! The current building was built over the original structure circa 1799 according to what I was told. It’s survived what could have been a devastating fire in 2010 that was tragically accidental.

It closed for a while when the old owners decided to sell. In 2018 it opened under new ownership. I wrote about it then (click HERE). PA Eats also wrote about it back then (click HERE.)

If I have a story right before the current owner as of 2018 it was owned by the original family that had it for decades and then maybe the people that owned Carmines up the street had it for a while?

Anyway back in 2012, the Daily Local wrote:

The Eagle Tavern

Receiving a liquor license in 1727, the Eagle Tavern was once a hangout for pre-Revolutionary War outlaws the Doan brothers. Located at the fork of two main thoroughfares, it’s been run by owner Lois Jones and her family since the country’s Bicentennial in 1976. Lois can be seen today greeting guests and serving up hearty fare in the restaurant’s casual, friendly atmosphere.

The Eagle Tavern has a colorful history that I would love to learn more about. (Some of it is on their website.)

I used to go to the tavern under the old owners mostly for lunch over the years. I didn’t live in Chester County until a few years ago so back in the day it was truly a haul to get there.

When the Eagle Tavern first reopened in 2018 we went a few times. The first time was March, 2018. That is when I wrote my initial review. At that time the meal was awesome and we really enjoyed it. We went back a few other times later in 2018 and didn’t really like it as much. I never updated my review, I just went other places. The problem was the place was inconsistent. It got to be that it was never really horrible but it wasn’t so fabulous either.

So until today, we hadn’t been there in forever, literally. We had wondered for a while if they were still open because the parking lot was always empty. Then recently a friend told me that they were under more appropriate management, better management and they were doing their own beer and other things.

So this afternoon after taking a detour after attending a funeral, my husband and I decided to go back for a late lunch.

I am so glad we did! And I hope all of you go back to the Eagle Tavern, especially if you haven’t been there in a while!

The difference is remarkable! The inside has been further refined without losing its wonderful historic tavern feel. The menu has been revamped and is like a more modern version of what it originally was years ago. And the bathrooms have been done over and so has the staff. We had amazing table service today and an awesome lunch!

I know it sounds dumb, but I have been on the hunt for a traditional, old-school club sandwich. I don’t know what it is about that sandwich but that is a summer sandwich to me. Probably because growing up when you went to certain clubs and places that was always on a summer menu.

The sandwich was amazing. My husband enjoyed his lunch too and said that their home brewed beers were nice! Here are screenshots of the lunch menu:

Here is the link to all of the menus: CLICK HERE. The Eagle Tavern has upped their game considerably and remained true to the history. I like that they do not pretend to be other than what they are. And it’s lovely inside. Anyone can buy architectural salvage to dress up a new build restaurant, but you can’t imitate centuries of history.

We actually took the time to speak with the manager. Chester County residents who have lived out here a long time you will know his name immediately – Chip Nye. Yes, the old manager for years came back! And the difference is remarkable! And he’s excited to be there and his energy is echoed by the rest of the staff.

The Eagle Tavern is running again like a well-oiled machine, and the menu works and is well-prepared coming out of the kitchen and the staff is amazing. I actually look forward to future meals there. And I think it looks better than ever inside which is why I snapped a few photos.

Anyway I encourage folks to go and check it out. They also have music some of the time.

An old school tavern is so much better than a Disneyesque modern version of a pub. The folks from the Ship Inn should go check it out. The Ship is also tradition around here, but they need a makeover in parts of their restaurant, and the kind of aesthetic makeover at the Eagle Tavern and feel of it would also work at the Ship Inn. No, not to create twinsies taverns, I just think it would be good inspiration. Especially in that big dining room that screams 1970s banquet hall.

(Now don’t get out the pitchforks at me because I said the Ship Inn needs a makeover. It’s a cool place but Robert Irvine needs to visit and Restaurant Impossible is looking for places.)

Back to the Eagle Tavern: Today was lovely, look forward to future visits! Let me know what you think if you go!

adaptive reuse ❤️

I love that whomever owns what was once a motor court on Route 30 in Exton is rebuilding the little cottages/cabins one by one.

Adaptive reuse and preservation. We need more of that combined with land conservation and farm preservation here in Chester County.

I